The Cardinals soon will discover how Robin Ventura will fare against them as a manager. As a player, Ventura had a record of delivering knockout blows against St. Louis.
Ventura, like the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny, is in his first season as a manager. He will lead the White Sox against the Cardinals in a three-game series June 12-14 at St. Louis.
In a 16-year playing career (1989-2004) as a third baseman for the White Sox, Mets, Yankees and Dodgers, Ventura hit .250 (28-for-112) against the Cardinals, with five home runs and 19 RBI.
Ventura, a left-handed batter, had a penchant for getting game-altering hits versus St. Louis.
Two of the most devastating came on June 10, 1998, at Chicago. The Cardinals had built a 7-0 lead through five innings and were ahead of the White Sox, 8-4, entering the bottom of the ninth.
Curtis King retired the first two batters of the inning and needed one out to seal a Cardinals win. But shortstop Mike Caruso got an infield hit, designated hitter Frank Thomas walked and left fielder Albert Belle slugged a three-run homer, making the score 8-7. Ventura then followed with a home run, tying the score.
In the 11th, Belle singled with one out and Ventura ripped a 3-and-0 pitch from Sean Lowe over the right-field fence for a two-run walkoff home run and a 10-8 White Sox victory. Boxscore
“I was just trying to get a pitch to hit in the air and I did,” Ventura said to the Arlington Daily Herald.
Asked about Ventura swinging on a 3-and-0 count, White Sox manager Jerry Manuel replied, “All three of those guys (Ventura, Belle and Thomas) have the green light to hit. They’re marquee players.”
Ventura became a free agent after the ’98 season and signed with the Mets. On June 17, 1999, he went 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run in the Mets’ 4-3 victory over the Cardinals at St. Louis. Ventura’s two-run home run to right-center in the sixth off Kent Mercker pushed the Mets’ lead from 2-1 to 4-1 and produced the winning run. Boxscore
“I made a bad pitch to Ventura and it cost me a game,” Mercker said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It was probably right down the middle of the plate. Three-and-two count, you leave a pitch down the middle to Robin Ventura … You expect bad things to happen.”
The Cardinals and Mets advanced to the National League Championship Series that year, with New York winning in five games. Ventura had the key hit in Game 4, a two-run first-inning double off Darryl Kile that landed between center fielder Jim Edmonds and right fielder J.D. Drew and gave New York a 3-2 lead. Ventura had a team-high three RBI in the game, which the Mets won, 10-6, at Shea Stadium. Boxscore
A year later, the Mets traded Ventura to the Yankees for outfielder David Justice. On June 15, 2003, Ventura won a classic duel with pitcher Woody Williams and lifted the Yankees to a 5-2 victory over the Cardinals in New York. Boxscore
In the sixth inning, with the Cardinals ahead 2-1, the Yankees had runners on first and second. Ventura faced Williams, who quickly got two strikes on the batter. Ventura fouled off four two-strike pitches. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Williams threw a high fastball on a 3-and-2 count and Ventura laced a two-run double into the gap in right-center, giving New York a 3-2 lead.
“That was a huge at-bat,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said to the New York Daily News. “He got behind and he was fighting off and fighting off. Those are the kind of at-bats we need.”
Joe Girardi (now the Yankees’ manager) was the Cardinals’ catcher in that game. He was the backup to Matheny during the ’03 season.
Matheny and Ventura will be facing one another as managers for the first time in the White Sox-Cardinals series, but they played against one another many times while Matheny was with the Brewers, Blue Jays and Cardinals.
The first time Matheny and Ventura played against one another in a big-league game was April 20, 1994, the catcher’s rookie season. Both went hitless in an 8-6 White Sox victory over the Brewers at Milwaukee. Boxscore